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RISD Museum Presents Brian Knep Exempla

The RISD Museum presents Brian Knep: Exempla in the Anne, Michael and Amelia Spalter New Media Gallery. Knep (American, b. 1968) creates animated, interactive projections to explore themes of the interconnected and impermanent nature of our world in a lively, light-hearted way. Organized by Judith Tannenbaum, Richard Brown Baker Curator of Contemporary Art, the show features Knep’s Exempla series which include the installations Escape (2006), Expand (2008), Embark (2009), and Excel (2009).

Brian Knep’s “exempla” are cartoonish figures based on a three-year-old child’s discarded drawing, featuring oversize faces and flimsy limbs. The artist describes them as “caricatures of the endlessly cycling everyman.” Projected onto the wall, the creatures wander aimlessly, their movement controlled by gallery visitors as they push a button or depress a foot pedal. The animated configurations are never the same twice, as viewers interact with the creatures and modify their fate.

The works in Exempla can be read as fables about our own revolving daily struggles. The titles, all action verbs, describe the creatures’ movements and ambitions. Excelling, expanding, escaping, and embarking, they all work diligently toward their modest, albeit futile, goals.

In Excel and Expand, the figures vie for position in a spotlight, which is controlled by the viewer. In Escape and Embark, the creatures are confined on one side of a constrained environment and the viewer directs their movement, enabling passage from one side to the other. In Excel, the creatures are drawn into the glowing orb only to vanish into the light. In Expand, the creatures elevate, inflate, and eject through the light, then slowly deflate and descend, forced to start again. The creatures in Exempla all work tirelessly in order to reach their destination or achieve their goal only to begin their cycle anew.

Having studied science and computer technology for fifteen years before focusing on art, Knep understands both the potential and limitation of these fields. He has observed, for example, that digital tools “have an enormous pull, promising productivity and happiness. Yet they have a way of leaving us cold and removing us, rather than connecting us to … our environment and ourselves.” Combining viewer activation with digital media, Knep brings an organic, human element to his artwork, while the creatures’ humorous behavior acts to connect his viewers to themselves and one another. “I see these pieces as optimistic,” Knep remarks. “Identifying with and laughing at the creatures’ behaviors allows me to accept and laugh at my own, similar, behaviors, which can lead to change and a more mindful experience of life.”

Brian Knep (American, b. 1968) was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science in 1990 and a Master’s degree in computer science in 1991, both from Brown University. In 2005 he became the first artist-inresidence at Harvard Medical School and in 2009 was awarded a Brother Thomas Fellowship. Knep lives and works in Boston. He has had solo exhibitions at The University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA; Koppelman Gallery at Tufts University, Somerville, MA; McColl Center for Visual Art, Charlotte, NC; Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York, NY; Memorial Hall, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT; and Computing Commons Gallery, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ. His work has been exhibited in group shows at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI; Miami Basel, Miami, FL; WEI, Eindhoven, Netherlands; University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand; Siggraph Art Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; Place de Hercé, Laval, France; and the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln, MA.

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